As much as I absolutely love sports radio, it does test your patience. I’ve noticed a growing trend that can cause mass headaches; listeners are often bad at listening. Yep, many people in the audience don’t live up to their name. They get distracted by any number of things — traffic, their own thoughts, their phone, etc. They hear what the host is saying but confuse the message because they aren’t listening closely enough.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends. There is a dynamic that’s even scarier. Some listeners are actually feelers. (Cue the horror music and ear-piercing shrieks!) AHHH! Feelers often misinterpret messages because the wrong emotions get triggered. You might hear responses like this — “It feels like you’re against my team. It feels like you’re against my favorite player.” Oh, Lord. This can be tricky.
I used to think that if listeners lived up to their name and just listened better, they would understand what the real truth is. I’ve realized over the years that this isn’t the best view. Fans are very emotional. Making a strong argument isn’t good enough these days. Making a strong argument that is also emotionally appealing to your audience is ideal. It can be difficult but far from impossible. More on this in a bit, but first, story time.
Something happened to me last week that is both hilarious and annoying. My stance here in Portland is that the Trail Blazers are a marginally better team. They made some good moves in the offseason by picking up Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore. They re-signed Rodney Hood and made other subtle changes. Nothing outstanding, but it was a solid summer. Some fans and co-workers are reacting as if I said Damian Lillard stinks (which would be insane) while spitting on a picture of Dr. Jack Ramsay.
What happened next was simultaneously my favorite and least favorite moment of the week. A caller named Dillon dialed up another show on our station and said, “I have to hear Brian Noe saying, ‘Oh, they’re marginally better.’ Why can’t we just say that the Blazers are much better now?” The host then asked if Dillon thought the Blazers were much better. His response was, “I don’t think they’re much better, but I think they’re better.”
The guy called in to disagree with me and then basically repeated my words. You wanna talk about sports radio in a nutshell? This is a textbook example of a feeler. It feels like I’m being overly critical of Dillon’s team, but in fact I’m making an argument that is very similar to his own. How do you combat feelers, or better yet, get them to emotionally accept your point of view?
My sister used to say that raising her kids took an ocean of patience. Sports radio does too. Patience is one of the best attributes a host can have. If a host gets impatient and tries to hammer an opinion home, or points out how dumb a caller sounds, that host is only losing ground. Many listeners take it very personally when they get called out (even when they really, really, really, really deserve it). It never makes sense to negotiate against yourself. That is what you’re doing if you lash out at listeners.
I compete against listeners and co-workers each week in something called Noe Contest. We’ve done a random assortment of challenges like free throw shooting, cornhole, pool, and even axe throwing.
I met a listener named Ty last week. He told me that he called up a rival station a while ago. The host didn’t like his opinion and gruffly hung up on him. Ty said he gradually listened to the host less and less. He now doesn’t listen at all. Listeners take this stuff personally.
There are a lot of bad autograph stories out there. You know the ones — a fan eagerly runs up to a player for an autograph only to get blown off. Fans remember those experience like it was yesterday and hold onto them. Those feelings linger. There was recently a much different reaction by a young boy who received an autograph from Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The boy hugged his autographed football while crying because he was so happy. Other fans were elated when Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. signed a license plate that read OBJR13. As a host, which story would you rather be affiliated with — the person who blew off a fan, or the person who made someone’s day? The choice is easy. Making it happen is the troublesome part.
Keeping your cool as a sports radio host is difficult when listeners are mean. Hosts typically don’t experience the equivalent of an eager kid running up saying, “Hey, can you please sign this for me?” It’s often, “Sign this now, idiot.” I’d love to see a player’s reaction if approached that way. Hosts often get treated badly. It’s tempting, but fighting fire with fire will get you nowhere.
I once ran a radio station in Albany, New York. Listeners would voice their complaints by emailing our website. Part of my job was to respond nicely to the people that unloaded some really harsh things. Once they read my pleasant reply, their follow-up messages were overwhelmingly positive — we’re talking a complete 180. The initial message was something like, “Your station sucks. You should replace your pathetic afternoon host. He’s a complete disgrace.” Their next message was, “Hey, thank you for the response. I appreciate it. That host isn’t nearly as bad as I made him out to be.” It was amazing.
We all want to be heard. One of the best ways to be heard is to hear. When you listen to the opinions of others and respond patiently, it’s incredible how much more they value your words in return. A nice response also helps calm down a situation because it triggers a positive emotion. If I emailed all of those angry people back by telling them to jump in a river, the chances of them being nice in their next message would’ve been slim to none. Patience is your ally. Charisma goes a long way too.
Here’s a crazy story; I was at a station event a few days before the 2019 NBA Draft. I was minding my own business when a girl came up from behind and bumped into me on purpose. It wasn’t as bad as a quarterback getting blindsided, but the jolt caused me to take a step or two forward. She mumbled something under her breath as she headed back to her seat. I was thinking, “What in the world?”
The same girl came up to me about 15 minutes later and asked if she could talk to me after the event. It turns out she had a brother who is a Philadelphia Eagles fan. The guy was convinced I hated the Eagles and was mad at me because my bold prediction last year was that the defending champs would miss the playoffs. They even asked if I wanted to see the video they took of the girl bumping into me, which they later posted on social media. Craziness.
Considering the situation, I did a decent job. I took a picture with the brother and sister. I tried to be as nice as possible. Looking back I should’ve been more charismatic even though those two clearly weren’t the coldest beers in the fridge. They tested my patience — that situation was one of the dumbest I’ve ever encountered — but listeners are the foundation of your success or failure. Their support is essential.
Emotional thinkers are all around us. You can’t make them see things from your perspective. You have to show them in a way that’s emotionally appealing. I understand that this is sports radio and not a group therapy session, but when things get animated it usually comes at the host’s expense. Do you like being yelled at? Well guess what? Listeners don’t like it either. When hosts weave in patience and charisma while delivering opinions, they open minds. It isn’t just about what is presented to the audience; it’s about how it’s presented.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.